There is a letter at the Economist website of interest to wannabe PCCs and their electorates. It’s from Alex Robertson at the Electoral Commission (hat tip to Jon Collins at the Police Foundation for spotting this).
The letter states that the Commission has “asked the government to provide a mechanism that ensures voters receive information from all the candidates in their area. This could be done in a similar way to mayoral elections where voters are sent a booklet with short addresses from each candidate. Without it there is a real risk people won’t know who they are voting for in November.“
This goes a little further than the speech of the Commission’s Chairman to the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, which we have already reported. Then he expressed concern that in some areas there will be elections for Mayor in November, where candidates will be able to pay a fee for their election address to be included in such a booklet, and also elections for Police and Crime Commissioner where that will not necessarily be the case.
The Chairman said it needed sorted by May, and I don’t think that was a reference to Theresa, so the time is short, and it is interesting that the Commission felt the need to have a letter in the Economist on top of what they had said to Ministers already.
This is a fundamental decision that will impact on who enters the campaign and how campaigns are conducted. A £5,000 entrance fee, and the cost of these booklets, is already a considerable hurdle for any Independents considering entering the race, but it pales into insignificance compared to the cost of printing and distributing leaflets for each candidate, which is in the tens of thousands of pounds at its cheapest in most of these areas.
An election booklet stands apart from the rest of the stuff that goes through the mail, might have more chance of being read than isolated leaflets from different parties, and would enable website links to be distributed to the electorate to make the most of less expensive but still high-quality methods of campaigning, such as this site from Gwent Independent Candidate Chris Wright. Costs could be kept to a minimum if the booklet doubled as, or was distributed alongside, the polling cards which will be issued anyway.
The Government wanted successful Independent candidates to come forward, but they need to remember that successful does not always mean rich. The Government is right to say that the cost of democracy in policing should not be weighed in numbers of police officers that money could have bought, because in no other election do we get caught up with the cost of what is a basic part of our society’s working. For these elections to work at their best, we cannot scrimp on the cost. These booklets should be available to candidates, and the cost of using them needs to be set at a level which is compatible with their purpose.
While they are at it, if the Home Office could break the incestuous habit of government websites of only linking to each other, and point some people in the direction of sites like this one, which are creating the online space for the election to happen, then it might just be a little more successful than would otherwise be the case.